Though Election Day 2018 already feels like a distant memory, a handful of races remain too close to call, with implications for LGBTQ representation across the country.
Among the candidates waiting for results is Kyrsten Sinema, running for U.S. Senate in Arizona. As of Friday morning, Sinema led by under 10,000 votes out of nearly two million cast. Sinema, a Democrat, is the first openly bisexual person to be nominated to the U.S. Senate by a major party. Currently a state legislator, she has pledged to advocate for LGBTQ equality in Congress, as well as reproductive freedom and expanded health care.
Sinema’s opponent, Republican Martha McSally, has been a nightmare for queer constituents. McSally opposes marriage equality, supports “turn away the gays” laws masquerading as religious liberty measures, and referred to transgender students as threats. She also sought to block trans servicemembers from obtaining medical treatment.
As of Friday, about a quarter million votes remain uncounted. Initially reported in the lead, McSally has now fallen behind, and it’s impossible to predict how the remaining ballots will skew. Election officials are currently tabulating early votes, likely to be from Democrats; and over the weekend they’re expected to count ballots that were dropped off on Election Day, which could skew Republican.
The suspense may not lift for quite some time; in McSally’s first race in 2012, it took 12 days for the ballot count to be complete enough to declare her the loser.
As in other states, Republican operatives are attempting to block a full count of the votes. Arizona has a complex process for verifying signatures and allows officials to contact voters whose signatures on their ballot doesn’t match the signature on file — for example, if an injury altered the voter’s ability to sign their name. Multiple GOP organizations have filed suit to try to prevent that reconciliation process. If those Republican lawsuits are successful, several thousand completed ballots would likely be thrown out.
Races in other states remain too close to call as well. In Georgia, Republican Brian Kemp has already declared victory, despite the race still being contested. Democrat Stacey Abrams is waiting for a final count to see whether an automatic runoff will be triggered by no candidate getting a majority of the vote.
Kemp, who until this week served as Secretary of State, came under fire during the campaign for improperly purging at least 340,000 voters. In that position, he was able to oversee the Board of Elections even as he was running.
An additional complication in that race: Some ballots were delayed by a hurricane, and Abrams’ team has sued in an attempt to prevent those late ballots from being thrown out by officials.
Abrams is a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community, fighting to block anti-LGBTQ bills disguised as religious liberty laws, and supporting marriage equality as far back as 2006. Even earlier, she supported a queer student group in college in the mid-90s. In contrast, Kemp has voiced support for bills that would grant businesses a discrimination loophole targeting LGBTQ citizens.
The next governor of Florida is also unclear, with the race headed for a possible recount, echoing the tumultuous presidential race of 2000. After Democrat Andrew Gillum initially conceded, tabulation revealed that he could be within half a percentage point of Republican Ron DeSantis. If that margin holds, it would trigger a machine recount.
Gillum is a longtime champion of LGBTQ equality, passing measures in Tallahassee that expanded domestic partnership benefits and inviting same-sex couples to marry in the city. DeSantis has a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign and campaigned alongside a pundit who claimed that memorials to the victims of the Pulse massacre would spread a “radical homosexual agenda.”
Florida’s Senate race is close as well; as of Friday, Governor Rick Scott appears to be within .25 percentage points of Senator Bill Nelson. That would trigger a manual recount of ballots. Scott is an opponent of marriage equality, while Nelson voted in favor of hate crime protections.
The race for Florida’s agriculture commissioner also remains close, with Democrat Nikki Fried leading Republican Matt Caldwell by about 500 votes. In a controversial move, Fried was endorsed by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council over openly gay candidate Matt Walker.
Florida counties are scrambling to meet a Saturday deadline to deliver unofficial returns, at which point state officials would determine whether recounts are warranted. An announcement about recounts is expected from the Florida Secretary of State tomorrow afternoon.
While ballots have not yet been completed the initial count, Republicans, including Donald Trump, have lied about evidence of fraud, even though there is none. Current Governor Rick Scott went even further, filing suit against election officials in counties sympathetic to Democrats and ordering law enforcement offices to intervene in the counting of his own ballots. In fact, there have been no signs of any irregularities so far.
In California, it’s still unclear who will win the State Assembly seat in District 60. Sabrina Cervantes, a Latinx lesbian, faces Republican Bill Essayli in that race; as of Thursday night, Cervantes was behind by fewer than 200 votes with more than 40,000 left to count. The Cervantes campaign says that it could be weeks before the outcome is known.
But there’s good news in the race for California Insurance Commissioner, with Ricardo Lara defeating Steve Poizner in an extremely close race. Lara is the first openly gay man to win statewide office in California and was previously the first openly gay person of color to serve in the California Senate. He is an advocate for expanding health care, pushing for a single-payer system in the state. Lara is also an ally to labor unions, and opposed insurance industry attempts to withhold coverage from wildfire victims. Poizner opposed marriage equality in California.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, lesbian city council candidate Dr. Jennifer Campbell was finally able to declare victory in a close election that took several days to completely count. Campbell, an advocate for homeless services and environmental protection, faced Republican Lorie Zapf, who wrote, “I absolutely want to keep homosexuals out of public office and not be allowed to influence our schools, textbooks, altering marriage, children and on and on.”
With pressure to roll back queer advances as intense as ever, these last few races have voters across the country on the edge of their seats. So far, the 2018 election has yielded encouraging results, hinting that the next two years could be somewhat less onerous for LGBTQ Americans. With any luck, we’ll know in the next few days — or possibly weeks — just how many allies will assume elected office in January.
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